www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Lake Louise

Derek’s Day Hike Equipment Checklist

As a novice day hiker, I do tend to want to delay departure from home until I have checked everything off my list … and then some.  But “what defines a novice day hiker?”, you might ask.  That’s a great question, since it does mean different things to different people who have differing degrees of capability.  According to I Am Calgary’s definition, it sounds something like this:

Novice: one who is doing an activity for the first time or who rarely embarks on such an activity;

Day: an activity falling strictly within the daylight hours between sunrise and sunset, rarely includes sunrise and / or sunset, and never includes an overnight stay as part of the activity;

Hike: while we acknowledge that this term may mean different things to different people, for the purpose of our definition and in light of the word “novice” being used in the aforementioned phrase, we will assume “hike” to be any walk, stroll or meander that does not require any of the following:

  • Mountain climbing gear;
  • Sleeping gear including tents, sleeping bags;
  • Scrambling, boulder hopping, caving, river crossing, fly-in / fly-out services, etc;
  • Hunting-related considerations.

Perhaps the broadest guideline for what we’re proposing as a candidate for a novice day hike is “anyone in your party who is old enough and capable enough to walk unaided for an extended duration (>4 hours)”.  We hope that helps you categorize this from the outset.

What doesn’t kill you will no doubt scare you

Before I launch into my checklist, allow me to share one brief story with you to give some context to why I prefer to be over-prepared than ill-informed.

Some years ago we were invited to go on a summers day hike with family to a well-known destination west of Calgary called Yamnuska.  Christa and I had never gone hiking as a couple since moving to Canada, so we eagerly embraced the opportunity to hang out for the day with our awesome family members, Lee and Sarah.  On the morning of our hike we made our own way out to the location, 45 minutes west of Calgary at the gateway to the Rockies, meeting our hiking buddies there.  By this time we had already made some critical errors. 

www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Yamnuska
The naive look before we realized what we were getting ourselves into, as Yamnuska menacingly towers over us.
www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Yamnuska
Hiking Yamnuska … the wrong way, perhaps?

We’d not done our own research on the hike, so arrived not really knowing what to expect.  We’d not checked the weather forecast.  We’d not taken into account the fact that the area had received significant rainfall in the preceding weeks.  As we set out from the trail head near the parking lot to embrace the 9km loop, wearing minimalistic clothing, it didn’t take long before we were trudging along muddy pathways in damp shoes.  We soon reached a point where the pathway split and we had to decide which route we were going to take to ascend the 900m elevation route to the imposing granite cliff-face looming above us.   Needless to say, by the time we reached the summit, after scrambling up the western slope scree face, encountering a freezing rain squall as we approached the top, losing feeling in our exposed extremities, and wishing we didn’t have to endure the unknown descent route, we wondered what on earth we were doing up here. We started practicing our hand signals for help should a mountain rescue helicopter happen to fly by.  One never did, but the animated practicing of our hand signals did distract us from the cold for a few moments and we did manage to eke out a few laughs as we psychologically prepared ourselves for our descent and hopeful safe return home! 

www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Yamnuska
At the summit
www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Yamnuska
Our weary, bedraggled, chilled hiking party atop Yamnuska

After a gruelling ten hours on the mountain we finally returned to our vehicles, drenched, freezing cold, caked in mud from butt-sliding down sections where the pathway had been washed away or was unrecognizable.  We vowed never to hike Yamnuska again.  To this day we’ve never been back, but we do feel like we have a good story to tell every time we drive past it on our way from Calgary to the Rockies.

www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Yamnuska
Post-Yamnuska fall-out

Based on this encounter and on my eagerness to generate checklists, here’s our recommendations that I have generated based on research and with credit to REI Co-Op.

Let’s GO!

Note that this checklist is deliberately comprehensive and can be tailor-made to suit your needs based on the hike you have planned, the demographics of your hiking party, the degree of difficulty, the weather, and the distance from amenities and help.

A category (or systems) list of ten hiking essentials has been refined by hiking experts over numerous decades and is summarized below.  Our edited list incorporates these items and are identified by a hashtag (#).  Although the degree of difficulty of your day hike may not warrant these items you would do well to at least consider including them in your gear in some form or another.  

Updated Ten Essential Systems

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
  5. Knife: plus a gear repair kit
  6. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
  8. Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation
  10. Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation

Essential Items

🔲 Day pack (10-20 litre capacity)
🔲 Water bottles
🔲 Navigation: map / compass
🔲 (#) First aid kit / supplies
🔲 (#) Fire starter (matches / lighter)
🔲 (#) Emergency shelter (space blanket / tarp)
🔲 Whistle
🔲 (#) Knife / multi-tool
🔲 (#) Head lamp / flashlight (with extra batteries)
🔲 Photographic equipment (phone, camera)
Clothing & protection:
🔲 Moisture-wicking underwear
🔲 Moisture-wicking t-shirt
🔲 Quick-dry pants
🔲 Longs-sleeve shirt (sun / bug / foliage protection)
🔲 Lightweight jacket
🔲 Footwear suited to the terrain
🔲 Socks (synthetic or wool)
🔲 (#) Extra clothing
🔲 (#) Sun screen
🔲 (#) Sun hat
🔲 (#) Sun glasses
🔲 Lip balm
🔲 Water
🔲 Trail snacks
🔲 Lunch
🔲 Extra day’s supply of food (#)
🔲 Itinerary (one with emergency contact person and one left in your vehicle)
🔲 Hand sanitizer
🔲 Personal hygiene products
🔲 Prescription drugs

Additional Items

🔲 Rain gear (jacket, pants)
🔲 Long underwear
🔲 Insulated jacket / vest
🔲 Gloves / mittens
🔲 Warm hat / toque / balaclava
🔲 Water filters / purifiers
🔲 2-way radios

Optional Items

🔲 Trekking poles
🔲 Bandana
🔲 Gaiters
🔲 Strap-on crampons
🔲 Route description
🔲 Binoculars
🔲 Interpretive guides (bird / plant / wildlife / rocks & minerals / insect / wilderness)
🔲 (#) Insect repellent
🔲 Toilet paper
🔲 Sanitary wipes
🔲 Alcohol / antiseptic wipes
🔲 Blister treatment
🔲 (#) Repair kit (duct tape, zip ties)
🔲 Outdoor journal or notebook with pen / pencil
🔲 USB battery pack and charging cords and adaptors

Pre-hike planning considerations

  1. How far do I need to drive from home to the trail head?
  2. What time do I need to start hiking? 
  3. What time do I want to be done hiking?
  4. What is the likely weather forecast at my destination?
  5. Are there any bans / restrictions / warnings for the area?  Fire bans, dangerous animal warnings, avalanche warnings, etc.?
  6. Read reviews of my proposed hike
  7. Do I require a permit to park / visit the location?

On the day: before departing

  1. Do I have sufficient fuel in my vehicle?
  2. Have I notified an emergency contact person where I am going to be parking / hiking and what time I am expected back home?
  3. Are my devices adequately charged? (phone, watch, GPS, 2-way radio, camera, Go-Pro, etc.)
  4. Have I rechecked the current weather forecast at my destination?
  5. Have I reconfirmed whether there are any updated bans or warning for the area?

After my hike

  1. Notify my emergency contact that I am safe and returning home.
  2. Drive home safely and be vigilant on the road.
  3. Consider writing a review of your experience for the benefit of other prospective novice hikers.

Some destination suggestions

Here is a starter list of some of the most popular day hike regions in southern Alberta and the southern Rockies.

Southern Alberta:

www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Horseshoe Canyon Drumheller
Horseshoe Canyon, Drumheller

Rocky Mountains:

www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Lake Louise
Larches at Lake Agnes above Lake Louise en route to the Beehive
www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Lake Louise
Switchback path above Lake Agnes
www.iamcalgary.ca IAmCalgary Day Hike Equipment Prep Lake Louise
The surreal view of one of our local jewels, Lake Louise, from the Beehive

Please leave your comment in the REPLY section if you have anything to add or advise me on.  I’d be happy to amend my lists with your input.


  • Katalina Dewan

    18 March, 2019

    Hahaha Derek, this was a great read, I love your introduction, I’m so sorry to hear that your first hike in Canada was such a bad (but funny to us) experience, specially on a hike like Yumnaska where it should have been more enjoyable (when you do it the right way) it just shows the importance of people being prepared.
    I think you did a pretty good job on listing the necessary. Some of it made me re-think of what I need to pack for my hikes 🙂
    I would love to take you and Chris for some good beginner hikes so you can add them to your list. Then we can try Yumnaska the right way!


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